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Yale Grieves For Four Students Killed in Crash

Two undergrads still hospitalized as college endures a ‘black day’

By Jaquelyn M. Scharnick, Crimson Staff Writer

After a multiple-vehicle accident on Friday claimed the lives of four Yale University students, their schoolmates spent the weekend attending memorial services and mourning their deaths.

Two students remain hospitalized after the crash, which occurred when their sport utility vehicle collided with a tractor trailer that had jack-knifed on an icy Interstate 95 in Fairfield, Conn., according to state police.

Two other Yale students injured in the chain-reaction crash were discharged from area hospitals Saturday.

The collision occurred shortly after 5 a.m. Friday as the nine students, all but two of them members of the Bulldog baseball or football teams, were returning to campus from a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity event in New York City in a 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe.

Yale junior Adam P. Wolf, whose roommate died in the crash, said all the students involved in the collision were either pledges or members of the fraternity.

Friends of the victims said the nine students had been participating in a series of pranks and social events sponsored by the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, which is known as DKE or “Deke.”

A university spokesperson said she believed last week was the fraternity’s “rush week.”

Founded at Yale in 1844, DKE has counted five American presidents among it members, including both Bushes.

According to state police, there are no preliminary indications that any of the drivers had been using alcohol or drugs.

The three students who died at the scene of the accident were sophomore Kyle M. Burnat, 19, of College Park, Ga., sophomore Andrew K. Dwyer, 20, of Hobe Sound, Fla. and the driver of the vehicle, junior Sean R. Fenton, 20, of Newport Beach, Calif.

Sophomore Nicholas G. Grass, 19, of Holyoke, Mass., died early Saturday afternoon from injuries sustained during the accident.

First-years Cameron A. Fine, 18, of Phoenix, Ariz., Christopher W. Gary, 18, of Nazareth, Pa., Brett D. Smith, of Papillion, Neb., sophomore Zachery A. Bradley, 19, of Alexander, Ark. and senior Eric W. Wenzel, 21, of Garden City N.Y., were injured in the crash.

Students said news of the accident has sent shock waves through the Yale campus, where students recently returned from winter break.

“The atmosphere has been drastically different,” said Yale sophomore Lindsay E. Page. “A lot of people were close to the young men involved and even if you did not know them personally, you have been touched by the sadness of the accident.”

Flags on Yale’s campus have been lowered to half-staff in memory of the students who were killed and injured. University officials cancelled or postponed all home athletic events Friday night and convened a service after notifying students of the accident in a campus-wide e-mail Friday afternoon, students said.

Page said students and faculty members filled the Lee Amphitheater, where they observed a moment of silence for each of the accident victims and listened to Dean of Yale College Richard H. Brodhead speak about the tragedy.

Brodhead, who has served as the dean for more than a decade, said the accident was one of the greatest tragedies the Yale community has endured.

“I’ve been at Yale a long time and this is as black a day as I’ve seen,” Brodhead told the assemblage. “These were people like you, people in their prime, people who had everything in front of them.”

Another moment of silence was observed Saturday afternoon when Yale Athletic Director Thomas A. Beckett announced the death of Nicholas Grass, who had been in critical condition since the accident, to the crowd at the women’s basketball game against Brown University.

Maria J. Smear, captain of the women’s basketball team, said she and her teammates had contemplated cancelling Saturday’s game out of respect for the accident victims, but decided to play as scheduled to honor the memories of their friends.

“We played to celebrate those guys,” said Yale sophomore Laura G. Toscano. “These guys were athletes, so going to a sporting event was quite appropriate.”

Students said Saturday’s athletic event was one of the few ordinary occurrences of the weekend.

“On Thursday night everyone was looking forward to the long weekend,” Toscano said. “But all the parties were cancelled and we just spent time together playing board games and talking. We did a lot of healthy things together.”

Remembering the Victims

Students and administrators remembered junior Sean Fenton at a memorial service held in Yale’s Battell Chapel Sunday—the only service that will be held on campus, according to last week, according to Yale spokesperson Helaine S. Klasky.

“Of course there were a lot of tears, but there was a lot of laughter too,” Klasky said. “People were recalling some fun and silly things about their friends.”

According to Fenton’s roommate Wolf, Fenton was a member of the football team during his first year but later quit the team to pursue other interests.

“He had been playing football most of his life and it just wasn’t so much fun for him anymore,” Wolf said.

Fenton, a computer science major, eventually joined the Yale Entrepreneurial Society and helped fellow students with computer problems as a computing assistant.

According to Wolf, Fenton joined Delta Kappa Epsilon last year.

“He was an all-around good guy,” Wolf said. “He was a really good person and everyone liked him. He always had fun and he always made sure everyone else had fun, too.”

Memorial services for the three other accident victims were held earlier this week.

Kyle Burnat, a history major, was a pitcher on the Bulldog baseball team.

Gopal P. Sarma ’05, who attended high school with Burnat, where he played varsity baseball for three years, described him as a “really smart and really athletic guy.”

Family members said Burnat was interested in politics and served as an intern for U.S. Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) last summer.

A service in memory of Andrew Dwyer was held yesterday in Bedford, N.Y.

Friend and Yale football player William T. Conroy said the two sometimes played squash together.

“He was as nice and polite a kid as you can find,” Conroy said.

Funeral services were also held yesterday for Nicholas Grass.

Grass’ Holyoke High School baseball coach, Thomas Brassil, remembered the Yale baseball team pitcher as talented and hard-working.

“He was a kid who earned everything he got,” he said. “He was a student who wasn’t initially very interested in academics and he ended up being accepted by Yale.”

This industriousness also strengthened his athletic career.

“He started out as an average baseball player and ended up being the best pitcher in western Massachusetts,” Brassil said. “And that was because he worked hard at what he did.”

“He would have made a mark for himself but he ran out of time,” Brassil added. “Kids like him only come around so often in a coach’s career and I was fortunate to have him.”

Many members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity said they were too distraught to comment on the deaths of their friends but Yale senior Tanivar A. Anis, a DKE member who is also a football player, reflected briefly on their lives.

“They are all real good guys,” Anis said. “All of the guys were friends and were real nice guys, real fun guys. They were the kind of guys you’d never expect something like this to happen to.”

The fraternity is independent of the university, but Klasky said Yale has strict policies which prohibit hazing rituals. She said there was no reason to believe the accident or the group’s activities in New York violated those policies.

Fraternity members said DKE officials advised them not to speak about the events preceding the accident and several calls to the national offices in Washington, D.C. were not returned.

News of the accident reached college campuses around the country Friday and Yale Director of Sports Publicity Steve Conn said the athletic department has been overwhelmed by the response to the tragedy.

Harvard has been a part of the outpouring of support.

Barry R. Wahlberg ’03, captain of the baseball team, said his team assembled shortly after the accident to decide how to best show their support for their Ivy-League counterparts.

“We organized as a team for some flowers to be sent over and I wrote a note on behalf of the team and expressed our sorrow,” Wahlberg said.

According to Wahlberg, no one on the Harvard baseball team knew the students involved in the accident but some players felt compelled to do even more and sent a signed baseball bat and personal notes to Yale’s athletic department.

Connecticut State Police said they are still investigating the crash and a final report is not expected for eight weeks.

No one, including the 33-year-old driver of the tractor-trailer which broke through the concrete barrier in the median strip and ran into the path of traffic, has been charged.

J. Paul Vance, a state police spokesperson, said any charges will not be filed until the investigation is complete.

“There will be a thorough, methodical, complete examination of all the evidence before we arrive at any conclusions,” Vance said.

—Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.

—Staff writer Jaquelyn M. Scharnick can be reached at scharnic@fas.harvard.edu.

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